(2006) Simply Aishwarya! – Times Now Interview
Times Now Interview
Three years back, Time Magazine declared that Aishwarya Rai was on the verge of becoming a global superstar. Julia Roberts called her the most beautiful woman in the world. The world press lapped her up as the beautiful exotic face of Indian cinema. With such hype surrounding her, one would think Aishwarya hitting big time in Hollywood was just a matter of time but the going’s been tough. Mainline Hollywood has eluded her though the actor says that it was never a priority.
Aishwarya Rai gets candid on this and much more in an exclusive interview with Naomi Datta.
Your last full fledged Hindi film appearance was Shabd (ya I checked huh).
Ya I was also thinking for a minute.
It was Shabd of course. ‘Kajra Re’ of Bunty aur Babli left such an impact but now there’s going to be a glut of releases. There’s Umrao Jaan and Dhoom 2 and Guru, so are you back in full flow?
Each time I have. I think since the time I have been mixing my genres of cinema be it Hindi films be it working in English films or be it Bengali films when I did Choker Bali, every time I came back with a so called full fledged Hindi film, it became like ‘oh your back’ and I was like ‘I never went anywhere’. I was just exploring different genres, that’s it. In that sense right now, all that I have been working for the past year is all ready for release.
What is your take on Time, the magazine making a prophecy three years back that you are on the verge of becoming a global superstar?
I can only thank people. It is a very privileged place to be in when people have been so generous with their compliments or expectations for that matter but on my part it’s been very clear that all along I am working as sincerely as I always have. My output has been very very committed to what I was exploring to do. It’s not defined by the level of expectation or the written word and this I have maintained since the time I started my work in cinema.
Meanwhile, I was coming in for the modelling world, the Ms. World title, I started with Iruvar a Tamil film with Mani Rathnam which was not all about me because I was very clear on how I wanted to work here. I worked on creating my own niche and when I looked back I wanted to be happy with the different genres I had explored. It wasn’t or isn’t for that matter even currently all about me looking westward or me appearing in Hollywood. It was really opportunity that came my way which I was willingly embracing but at the same time not just looking for foot in the door opportunities.
Some would say that it is easy being here, you are an A-list star, you can pick and choose your projects, so why would you try to work hard to break into an industry which is a closed circle?
But I have always accepted challenges anyway.
Is it really a closed circle?
It’s not really pigeon-holed or tunnel-visioned in the way I approach my work because I like to break preconceived ideas either which ways. I don’t have any issues about working in another part of the world. It isn’t up to others to define your place there, it’s the choices you make so isn’t necessary that. I have read many quotes where people have said that why be a slave elsewhere when you can rule here. It’s not about being a slave or ruling, it is about exploring work and you feeling good about the work you are accepting. It’s as simple as that.
And that could be any industry, it could be Tamil or Bengali?
Anywhere. Language is no bar as long as you are not looking at it as a different world. You cease to have complexes, superior or inferior. It’s a question of looking at it very very purely as cinema for what it is and as work being accepted or not accepted. Not looking at it as Hollywood or this is the Indian film industry. You need to break within yourself all these issues and decide if you want to or you don’t want to.
You also get a lot of attention from the western media which doesn’t go beyond asking you will you kiss in a Hollywood film and you still live with your parents. Do you at any time get irritated with those questions?
Those were not the only questions that were asked. However, they did make the headlines as they kind of get highlighted.
They were good interviews but somehow they had a predominant theme.
That is because their notion is not particularly about me only, but of our films or films made in our world. Through me, they were exploring how we work or why we do certain things or why we don’t do certain things and is it changing or isn’t changing. That is why, when I give these interviews I am in a situation where I am not just talking about me. I am talking about us so it’s a very interesting place to be in and a tricky one at it and a responsibility about how I choose to answer. So I am glad you are asking me this question so I get a chance to explain how I choose to answer those questions.
You don’t want to shake them up and say oh what daft questions.
No, it’s nice of you to observe the fact that when I am answering these questions it’s not just about me as opposed to I guess a part of the media here sometimes tends to pick on my answers thinking that I am only answering for myself. You have to give clarity in your answers to a totally different world out there and at the same time, I was also saying that things are changing as they factually are in our business. Then there was this whole talk about what Oprah said 15 million dollars or some such thing, they refer to even the rupee as a dollar so they said Aishwarya is going and giving wrong facts. Why would I? I haven’t done it here, why would I need to go and do it there. I don’t need to make impressions when they are being generous enough to give me a platform. So I don’t need to go out there to try and get more attention than they generously already have given.
Tell me something the media picking on you, scrutinizing everything.
That is not always the case. Media has also been very generous to me.
But there have been times, when you have come under immense scrutiny. For example, there was this news channel which had dedicated a full 30 minutes to how you had lost 10 kgs for Dhoom 2. How do you handle that sort of scrutiny?
I think it makes for fun viewing I guess or there’s a lot of software that makes for interesting viewing. That’s all I can put it down to. I can’t really sit and focus on analysing what, why, where, how. There is much which is not factual, but you can’t do much about it. It is part of being a public personality so you will be scrutinized, there will be assumptions and opinions. As the world at large does have and I guess media personnel as well have opinions and it comes down to half hour specials and beyond that.
You just live with that then.
What else can you do sometimes? I guess when they cross the line, its upsetting. If it really goes beyond and there has been a phase when it did. But the interesting fact is people themselves start feeling that the media has gone far too beyond their limit and needs to be curtailed. So that is a good feeling when people have a conscience.
Aspects of professional life or your films coming under the scanner is fine as you are public property when you are out there. However, aspects of personal life also get splashed over, is that something you are getting used to?
I don’t think that it is something you can ever get used to if it crosses the line. I mean you are human, if you pinch it hurts. It’s but normal but I have faith in the audience themselves because we watch shows and we are our audience as well. You watch so many different interviews, analysis, shows and things like that and you have a discerning mind. You do have your own discretion so I have faith in the fact that so does the audience so when it really goes way overboard sometimes it may be good because people can say it’s going overboard.
Some sympathy factor comes in.
Not sympathy, it goes beyond a hand, I think truth reveals itself and I have faith in that and that has been by the grace of God the pattern of my life for the longest time now that when it really goes way overboard in any aspect, truth has revealed itself and people have let me know. The real people out there do let me know but every time we have this discussion, I kind of feel I don’t want the media to feel that I am sitting and picking at them because we really are on the same side. We really share a symbiotic relationship as far as being a part of the same world for the audience so I really don’t have issues.
On the other hand, we say that the more the channels, more the newspapers, more the competition so I guess more the stories. On the other hand, its fantastic to see the positive impact that media has been having, making a difference to so many people’s lives, becoming the voice of the nation which is who you really are.
Finally, it’s your personal life so you are totally entitled to keep it as discreet as you want.
That is why it’s called personal.
Do you think if you just said look I am single, I will date whoever, if we get married I will let you know do you think that will end the speculation or do you think there will be more stories?
I think that’s the unsaid word. Where’s the need to even go out there? There’s no need and especially now that I have been a part of films for 10 years and I have been a part of the media for more than that. I can safely say that I am glad about the fact that personally, where quotes, unquotes are referred to, it’s been my work that has defined my presence as far as my media interaction has been. So I don’t see any reason why I need to change that at this stage of my life or career. It has been very apparent as to how I have conducted myself and I think there is no need for me to cease to be me.
At various phases, you have had people who have been tough on you. Are you easy on yourself, how tough are you on yourself as an actor, maybe otherwise. Do you take things easy?
You have asked me three things at the same time. In terms of an actor, as a professional I am committed. I am very very committed to try and go beyond what is probably the preconceived idea or expectation. In terms of whether I am hard on myself, that’s a trick question because its not about overdoing your homework or any such thing. I think I do 95% of my work right there on the set but it isn’t about obsessing and driving yourself nuts over trying to arrive at that.
You are not the method actor?
I don’t know these definitions frankly. I haven’t gone to any acting school. So I don’t know the definitions of method or otherwise.
But you have said that you are a director’s actor.
I have always said that because every actor should be. You are really there and it’s not only me saying this, its part of our medium, it should be a given. It’s a director’s medium, the director is creating his vision there. It’s his cinema and we are the most important aspects. I am saying we are all as in every technical, visual, creative aspect. We are all the different ingredients coming together to create that piece of art called cinema. So we all should be the director’s actors.
You have always said that your characters need to stand for something so in that context, your character in Umrao Jaan, what do you think she stands for?
I have not always said my characters need to stand for something. I feel that my characters need to be defined. You should be able to say who she is in every film, may she be strong, may she be weak, positive, negative, an achiever, defeatist. The fact is that you should be able to identify her as a character apart from the poster girl. That is something that has been important and the effort continues. Umrao Jaan is Ameeran who goes through her emotional journey, her entire arch, discovers Umrao Jaan in her. She never loses Ameeran throughout that journey even though her identity and her recognition is as Umrao Jaan Ada.
Your film is an adaptation of the novel, it’s not a remake but the fact that an earlier film exists, are you bracing yourself for the comparisons?
No but I have definitely dealt with it in every interview.
I know but it’s an inevitable question.
Of course. I mean we knew it right in the beginning. So in that sense like you very correctly said, I don’t need to repeat it that it’s a remake, it’s an adaptation but yes the film has been made before. Those who have seen it and are aware of it will be obviously inclined to make comparisons, it’s a given and those who haven’t seen it, will discover JP Dutta’s Umrao Jaan. In fact, even I may confess that I had seen the movie earlier, but it was just a Sunday movie. The songs have been often seen so when J P Saab approached me, I could not completely recollect but I did remember the songs. However, when we started shooting J P saab’s version, I did not see the earlier version because I did not want to be influenced by any impression.
There’s a story I heard that Mr. Dutta had actually spotted you earlier as a teenager, do you know that story?
He had called me at that time. But it has been a pattern with me that when I was invited in to the modeling world, I said no. The same thing happened when I was approached for movies, I said no. I was a student and that was the time when Sir approached me. Interestingly, he wanted to launch me with Bobby only who I eventually was launched with.
So it was meant to be, the launch with Bobby?
Yes, but Sir had asked me then. He had seen me on my street and he and Bindiyaji brought it up again now when we were working and he said we waited for all these years and finally we are working together and I said I am glad we are working together on something as fantastic and special as Umrao Jaan.
In a complete transformation from Lucknow’s gharana and mujras, you are this biker’s girl in Dhoom 2. Hrithik is known to be a perfectionist, did he drive you insane or are you equally a perfectionist?
I think we are all equally committed irrespective of what the mood. There are some of us, not everybody, I would like to say some of us who I have interacted with, we are visibly extremely committed and there is mutual respect. There’s no question of driving each other nuts because you know you are out there to put out your work to the best of your abilities. We work very well as a team. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him on Dhoom. We had done the world tour before that at which point we started interacting very briefly half way into the shows because I had come in from another job, he had come in from another job and we had not the chance to really connect. We were both as usual obsessed and committed to try and do a good job on the show so that was our focus. We started rapping away about half way through but I think we really struck a fantastic chord on Dhoom.
OK I just read somewhere, that you are paranoid about being an underachiever, now there’s no danger of that happening?
Whose quote is that?
It was one of those 20 things…
Let me put this in a different context – in one of those press conferences generally people say if are you ever going to write your book and I kept saying I don’t know about writing my autobiography at some point. The more I hear about all these non-facts which are put down as quotes, I am getting very inclined to may be at some point write my book because I don’t know, I can’t keep pace, I don’t know what’s being written, I don’t know what’s being attributed to quotes. There’s no paranoia, no such thing. That’s not my quote, guys, that’s not my quote!
So are you paranoid about anything?
At this point of time I would like to think that I have a fairly middle path cum approach to things. The word I have most often used in this interview is I am committed. I am committed to what I do but beyond that I don’t think it’s about over-dwelling or I don’t think I am paranoid about anything around here. I think it’s very evident.
Well hope you remain committed and all the best for Umrao Jaan.